Every child needs a special place to nourish their dreams. For me, it was the library.
I grew up in a tough blue-collar neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. My folks both had to work to put food on the table. Not that we were poor. When I was seven, we moved out of the top floor of a three family home into a house just down the street. Yeah, we moved the sum total of half a block. But it was our own home: three bedrooms, one bath and a screened-in porch. I could reach out a window and touch (well, almost) the neighbor’s house. Could hear them, too. Sometimes.
I could walk to Alexander Street School, which I attended through sixth grade. Three stories high, if I remember correctly, lots of faded red brick, two playgrounds (one for the big kids, one for the little) and a ten foot high chain link fence around the big playground. We played basketball, stickball, or punchball every day after school.
It was great fun playing with my friends, but I always left after an hour or so. Time to go to the library, which was just down the block. Another red brick building, but this one was a place to dream. I could walk down the aisles and pull out another world. My favorites were stories about horses, dogs and baseball. Walter Farley was a special author, bringing the world of Alec and the Black Stallion to my little corner of the world. Racetracks, ranches, the countryside — these were places way outside my range of experience. Made me understand that Newark wasn’t the whole world.
The baseball stories were great, too. Little morality plays in the guise of sports, where the good guys always won. No matter how bad things seemed to get, the good guys would come through and win the championship game in the last chapter. Something you could rely on.
I loved those books and I looked forward to my trips to the library. It was both safe and exciting. I don’t think the library changed my life, but it sure enriched it.
Every child should have a library.